The great Juan Donoso Cortés (1809-1853) said that behind every political problem there is a theological and metaphysical problem. Sometimes, however, behind a theological problem there is a political problem that explains it. This is what must be kept in mind in order to predict what will happen in the next Synod: a religious assembly, desired and organized by a pope for whom politics prevails over theological and moral doctrine. Some episodes that have happened in recent days help us understand this.
On September 22, 2023, Giorgio Napolitano, a leading figure in Italian political life for many decades, died at the age of 98. In his long life Napolitano combined an iron Communist militancy, which in 1956 led him to approve of the Soviet invasion of Hungary, with an equally iron loyalty to the Masonic fraternity to which he belonged, following in the footsteps of his father Giovanni (1883-1895), a leading figure in the Grand Lodge of Italy. On May 10, 2006, after Napolitano’s election to the presidency of the Republic, lawyer Gustavo Raffi, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, pointed to this choice as “one of the highest moments in the democratic life of the country,” and on the day of the ex-president’s death the Grand Lodge displayed flags at half-mast at its national headquarters on the Janiculum Hill as a sign of condolence.
Within the Italian Communist Party, if Enrico Berlinguer (1922-1984) headed the wing of the “catho-communists,” who sought to reconcile the monstrance with the hammer and sickle, Napolitano was, after Giorgio Amendola (1907-1980), the most distinguished exponent of the “atheo-communists,” advocates of a meeting of communism and super-capitalism on the basis of a common rejection of the transcendent dimension of life. Ferruccio Pinotti and Stefano Santachiara, in their book The Dirty Clothes of the Left: Napolitano’s Secrets and the Democratic Party affairs (Chiarelettere 2013), claim that Napolitano was allegedly initiated, in distant times, into Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry and recall various significant moments of his life that are understandable in this light, from the “mysterious trip” to the United States in 1978, in the days of the Moro kidnapping, to the meeting, in 2001, in Cernobbio, with Henry Kissinger, who greeted him with the words “My favorite communist.”
Napolitano was a consistent atheist-communist, and his “secular” funeral, was held on Sept. 26, for the first time in the history of Italy, inside the hall of Montecitorio [the palace of the Italian Chamber of Deputies]. This is the character to whom, two days earlier, Pope Francis wanted to pay homage, standing for a few minutes in silence, without a blessing or a sign of the cross, before the coffin displayed in the Senate’s funeral chamber.
The tribute was not paid privately, but publicly, with a clear symbolic message. Giorgio Napolitano, Pope Francis said, was “a great man, servant of the fatherland.” Napolitano’s political biography documents that in reality he did not serve “the fatherland,” but the interests of the “strong powers,” as when, in November 2011, he personally intervened to make Silvio Berlusconi resign and install in his place Prof. Mario Monti, who was liked by the international financial lobbies. Nor do we understand what “greatness” the Vicar of Christ can attribute to a man who manifested throughout his life a deep aversion to the Catholic Church. But this means reasoning in religious terms, while for Pope Francis it seems that religion must be absorbed by politics, seen as the earthly dimension of the Church’s life.
It is difficult to see how the political deference Francis shows to the “powerful” can be reconciled with the call for that “welcome to the least,” which constitutes one of the cornerstones of his pontificate.
In the days immediately preceding his tribute to Napolitano, Francis visited the city of Marseille, specifying that his was not a visit to the French nation but to the multicultural capital of immigration.In Marseille, in his speech at the Mediterranean Encounters, before French President Emmanuel Macron, the Pope said there is no “invasion” of migrants, no “emergency,” because “those who risk their lives at sea do not invade, they seek welcome.”Therefore, we must end “alarmist propaganda” to “feed people’s fear.”The phenomenon of migration is “a fact of our times” and “must be governed with a European responsibility capable of facing the objective difficulties.”On the same Sunday, Sept. 23, in Bologna, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops, gave a rally, amid applause, at the national party of Rifondazione Comunista, the only Italian political party that explicitly refers to the principles of Marx-Leninism.
Zuppi, another from the far-left Sant’Egidio community, has been, in recent months, in Beijing, Moscow and Kyiv, as the Pope’s personal bearer of a political message of “dialogue,” bypassing Archbishop Richard Gallagher, the Holy See’s foreign minister.
This political activism, however, has begun to produce, unexpected reactions from Chinese, Ukrainian and Polish bishops, who openly challenge Pope Francis’ Ostpolitik. The president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference (KEP), Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, in an interview with the German Catholic weekly Die Tagespost (Sept. 18, 2023) (Italian version here) criticized the Vatican’s position on Russian aggression against Ukraine., stating that “treating the aggressor and the victim in the same way is a mistake.It looks like a repetition of the mistakes of the so-called Vatican Ostpolitik in the days of communism. If Russia won the war, it would not give up its ambition to restore the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. So we will soon have another war in Europe.”
Against this stormy background, the “Synod on Synodality” will take place, a political event from which no theological novelties are to be expected, but rather a pastoral message that will “innovate” or rather “revolutionize” the Church on the level of praxis.
The issues of immigration, labor, the environment, poverty and social inclusion will be part of the synod debate. This is the teaching conveyed by John XXIII, in the allocution Gaudet mater Ecclesia that opened the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962. Assuming that his successor may be called John XXIV, as he said last Sept. 4, returning from Mongolia, Pope Francis clearly points out a path. The Revolution in the Church is not a doctrine but a “method,” a political and pastoral practice that crumbles ancient doctrine without proposing a new one.
However, Donoso Cortés was not wrong when he said that even when immersed in political discussions, one must never stop raising one’s eyes to the supernatural dimension, to which everything ultimately leads back, because the ultimate goal of men is not on this earth. On Sept. 24, two days after Giorgio Napolitano, Matteo Messina Denaro, the historical head of Cosa Nostra and responsible for heinous criminal episodes, died in a prison in L’Aquila. Messina Denaro, like Napolitano, refused a religious funeral. “No funeral from the Catholic Church,” he said, “God will be my justice.”
The mobster and the atheist-communist stood on the same days before God, supreme judge of our every word, act or omission. Their earthly lives have been the most different. But will their eternal fate be different?